Editor's note: The following essay was reprinted in Resource Library on February 4, 2011 with permission of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. It was written in conjunction with the exhibit Keepsakes of the Beloved: Portrait Miniatures and Profiles 1790 to 1840, on view January 8 - April 17, 2011 at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay and other source material, please contact the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

Keepsakes of the Beloved: Portrait Miniatures and Profiles 1790 to 1840

By Elizabeth Johns

 

 

"Most women are not so young as they are painted".
 
- Max Beerbohm, A Defense of Cosmetics (1895)
 
 
 
"It seems to be a law of nature that no man ever is loth to sit for his portrait. A man may be old, he may be ugly. He may be burdened with grave responsibilities to the nation, and that nation be at a crisis of its history; but none of these considerations, nor all of them together, will deter him from sitting for his portrait."
 
- Max Beerbohm, Quia Imperfectum (Imperfect Things), 1918 

 

English caricaturist Max Beerbohm (1872-1956) was certainly right about portraits. "Keepsakes of the Beloved: Portrait Miniatures and Profiles" supports his wit, if not his cynicism. Before the invention of photography, portrait painting kept artists in business, especially among the citizens of America, who were eager to establish a record of their persons and responsibilities. American painters produced many bust or full-sized oil portraits that were richly framed, calculated for display in a comfortable home or even in public.

In contrast, most of the portraits in this exhibition are quite small -- painted miniatures and cut profiles or silhouettes. Certainly flattering according to the conventions of the period, they were for private rather than public use, as keepsakes of a special moment or person -- a lover, a wedding, a child, a spouse, even a memorial to one who had died. Typically women wore the miniatures as lockets and men tucked them in their pockets to have the images close by. Over the generations, many families framed their ancestors' miniatures and displayed them in special places in the home. Cut profiles or silhouettes, simpler and less expensive, were often placed in family Bibles and framed later. After several generations, all became part of history, detached from the original families and given to museums or sold to collectors.

Miniature paintings got their start in the sixteenth century in northern Europe when artists learned to paint on a very small scale in order to broaden their market for portraits. For two centuries, they painted on vellum (animal skin scraped thin and smooth). By the eighteenth century, miniaturists worked on small oval chips of ivory or on paper card, and American painters learned the technique. Using very fine brushes to apply watercolor, they backed the ivory with white paper to heighten the effect of light radiating from the portrait. Typically they enclosed the miniature in a convex glass cover and sometimes also mounted it in a case.

This exhibition features such works, most by American artists and most from the years 1790 to 1840. The exhibition also includes two full-size oil portraits to indicate the choices that clients could make before photography transformed the market. Later in the century, the miniature experienced a revival, with artists typically relying on daguerreotypes rather than sittings, and a few objects in the show date from the 1880s.

One of the most active families in portrait-making in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was that of Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827). Peale studied in England and returned to the Colonies in 1769, settling in Annapolis and then in Philadelphia. There he taught family members his techniques and, with them, "divided up" the market. Eventually, children of both Charles Willson Peale and James Peale (1749-1831), his brother, were prominent in the portrait market in the mid-Atlantic states, some traveling as far south as Charleston, South Carolina.

Charles Willson Peale's son, Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825), specialized in miniatures and still life. His Portrait of Anthony Slater, circa 1814 [Figure 1], is typical of his skill on a small scale. Slater was born in England in 1779, but moved to Philadelphia to become a major importer and wholesaler, and probably ordered the miniature in celebration of his business success. Peale backed the ivory with a piece of silver to prevent light spilling in from the back and interrupting his delicate handling. A square gilded frame, possibly from the 1920s, encloses the miniature.

The exhibition also presents several works by James Peale's daughter, Anna Claypoole Peale (1791-1878). Trained by her father, who had agreed to paint miniatures while his brother Charles Willson painted full-size works, she was hugely successful as a miniaturist. Her A Lady, 1825 [on cover], and Portraits of Obadiah Brown and Elizabeth Brown, 1819, of Washington, D. C.  reveal the reasons for her popularity: she painted her sitters' costumes and features in close detail and used saturated colors that resembled the brilliance of oil. A counterpart in New England was Sarah Goodridge (1788-1853), who although self-taught, was so successful in her Boston studio that she supported not only herself but several relatives. Goodridge's portraits of clergyman James Trask Woodbury and his wife Augusta Porter Woodbury, 1828, typify her talented grasp of detail and character [Figures 2 and 3].

In the last several decades, both miniatures and silhouettes, the names of whose sitters and artists have been lost, have come into public and private collections. One such work, a very fine one, is an unidentified artist's miniature of Major Samuel Ringgold, 1820s [figure 4]. Ringgold (1796-1846) was the son of Samuel Ringgold (1770-1829), a Maryland congressman, and his wife Maria Cadwalader; their home, "Fountain Rock," stood near the present location of St. James School south of Hagerstown. A graduate of the first class at West Point in 1818, Ringgold, the sitter, went on to conduct research on military saddles and light artillery, which led to his promotion to Major in 1845. This miniature, cased in red Moroccan leather, may mark that promotion, or perhaps it celebrates his graduation and the rank of "major" was Ringgold's or his family's addition. Ringgold distinguished himself in the Mexican-American War, during which he suffered a mortal wound. This miniature is one of only two portraits of the officer made during his lifetime.During the Federal Era (1780-1820), portraitists swarmed to Washington, D.C. Beerbohm's comment years later that everyone wants a portrait was certainly true during this complex period: statesmen, judges, military personnel, merchants, landowners-all were eager to be "remembered." Some portraitists made silhouettes or profiles. These last, although inexpensive, were "the rage," according to Charles Willson Peale, because at the time people believed an outline gave the most accurate indication of character.

Some profiles were cut, others drawn and used as a basis for engravings. Late in the century bronze profile medallions, like those by Truman Bartlett, became popular. The most well-known and accomplished profiler was Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de Saint-Mémin (1770-1852). During the years 1796 to 1810, Saint Mémin created in the United States almost one thousand engravings of important and "ordinary" citizens. When his orders in Washington began to diminish, he traveled throughout the southeast, gaining more orders. A refugee from the French Revolution, Saint-Mémin used a tracing device to capture an accurate profile, then filled in the drawing with details and created an engraving. He typically gave the drawing, engraved plate and 12 prints to each patron. Among his works of eminent citizens was his engraving of Gabriel Duvall (1752-1844), descendant of original settlers of Maryland, [figure 5] lawyer, jurist in Maryland, and an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1811 to 1835. Framed in successive gold squares, the engraving portrays a distinguished jurist, firm in his principles.

Simpler profiles could be cut and the image itself pasted onto an oval background (a technique called cut-and-paste), or the hollow that remained after the cutting placed onto a contrasting backdrop (called hollow-cut). Silhouettists or profilers would then typically decorate the image with light colored gouache, suggesting perhaps a bonnet, scarf, wig, or cravat, and then apply gold decorations around the oval, matching the fancy frame. The silhouettes by the Philadelphia artist of an unknown woman and unknown man are examples of hollow-cut profiles in a decorated ensemble [figures 6, 7].

Other profilers, like Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), a nephew of Charles Willson Peale, drew their works in graphite, occasionally enlarging them and reversing the direction the sitter faces with a chalk drawing, as did Polk with his drawing of an unknown woman that he turned into a larger, highly decorated profile. [figure 8]

For the affluent that could afford an oil portrait, (and, as Beerbohm would say, wanted to be made younger) the bust-size image was typically commissioned to mark a special time in the sitter's life. Whereas American artists like Charles Willson Peale and his family painted with a linear style that emphasized the particulars of expensive dress and hair fashioning, portraitists in Europe at the time worked with a loose, romantic style, often using thin glazes of delicate color that suggested their sitter's freedom of spirit. This exhibition demonstrates the difference with portraits by the American Sarah Miriam Peale and the Swiss artist Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807).

Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-1885), daughter of Charles Willson Peale, in her Portrait of Anna Farmer Bower, 1822 [figure 9], used a hard-edged, carefully detailed style that emphasized the intricate lace and patterns of her sitter's costume and bonnet. In contrast, Kauffmann's imposing oil portrait circa 1790 of a woman who is believed to be Franciska Krasinska, Duchess of Courland (1742-1796) shows the European artist's sophisticated absorption of the soft-brushed, multi-layered style popular in London, where she lived in the 1760s and 1770s. The thin glazes Kauffmann used in the portrait are testimony of her admiration for the work of English portraitists Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, who, with her, were members of the English Royal Academy. And indeed, the Duchess was much older than Kauffmann suggests in the portrait [figure 10].

Kauffmann's miniatures are less well known, but two works painted in her style in the collection of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts reveal European copyists' admiration of her bright colors and gentle touch-Portrait of a Gentleman and Portrait of a Lady. With signatures that imitate Kauffmann's, such decorative miniatures were bought by American tourists in the 1880s as souvenirs on their Grand Tour of Europe. Painted on ivory and possibly over a photograph, these may be copies of portraits by Kauffmann or painted directly over a photograph of the tourist patrons. Because the man and woman are facing each other, they are perhaps a married couple celebrating their honeymoon. In addition, these keepsakes were possibly painted in Rome, a must-see stop on the Grand Tour, and where the revered Kauffmann had settled after her stay in England.

 

About the Author

Dr. Elizabeth Johns, PhD, is professor emerita in Art History, University of Pennsylvania.

 


 

(above Peale, Anna Claypoole (American, 1791-1878), A Lady, 1825,  watercolor on ivory, 4 x 3". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Dr. W. Lehman Guyton, 2009)

 

(above: Unidentified artist (American), Portrait Miniature of Major Samuel Ringgold, early 1820s, watercolor on ivory, 3 ? x 2". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Museum Purchase, 2000)

 

Works in the exhibition:

 
Bartlett, Paul Wayland (American, 1865-1925), Elizabeth Cady Staunton, bronze profile medallion, 4 x 3 3/4". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Ms. Caroline Peter, 1959. 
 
Bartlett, Paul Wayland (American, 1865-1925), Reverend Dr. Skinner, bronze profile medallion, 4" diameter. Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Ms. Caroline Peter, 1959. 
 
Boudon, David (Swiss, b. 1748, active in America, 1794-1816), Portrait of an Unidentified Man, 1790s, silverpoint on card paper, 4 3/4 x 4 1/4". Collection of Dr. and Mrs. George Manger.
 
Goodridge, Sarah (American, 1788-1853), Augusta Porter Woodbury, 1828, watercolor on ivory, 3 3/4 x 2 3/4".  Neville-Strass Collection. (Figure 2)
 
Goodridge, Sarah, (American, 1788-1853), James Trask Woodbury, 1828, watercolor on ivory, 4 7/8 x 2 3/4". Neville-Strass Collection. (Figure 3) 
 
Kauffmann, Angelica (Swiss, 1741-1807), Possibly Franciska Krasinska, Duchess of Courland, circa 1790, oil on canvas, oval 24 3/4 x 19 1/2", framed 28 1/2 x 22 3/4 x 1 3/4".  Collection of the National Gallery of Art, gift of Miss Alice Preston, 1954.5.1. (Figure 10) 
 
Peale, Anna Claypoole (American, 1791-1878), A Lady, 1825,  watercolor on ivory, 4 x 3". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Dr. W. Lehman Guyton, 2009. (on cover) 
 
Peale, Anna Claypoole (American, 1791-1878), Obadiah Bruen Brown, 1819, watercolor on ivory, 3 x 2 3/8". Neville-Strass Collection.  
 
Peale, Anna Claypoole (American, 1791-1878), Elizabeth Brown (Mrs. Obadiah Brown), 1819, watercolor on ivory, 3 x 2 3/8". Neville-Strass Collection.  
 
Peale, Raphaelle (American, 1774-1825), Portrait of Anthony Slater, circa 1814, watercolor on ivory, 2 5/8 x 3 1/2", in gold frame, possibly from 1920s. Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Robert Dodge, 1991. (Figure 1)
 
Peale, Sarah Miriam (American, 1800-1885), Portrait of Anna Farmer Bower, 1822, oil on canvas, 34 1/2 x 29 1/2". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Mr. Craig Rublee in loving memory of Anne Page Chandler Fogg, 1994. (Figure 9) 
 
Polk, Charles Peale (American, 1767-1822), Profile of a Woman, circa 1820, blue chalk on black paper, 11 x 8 3/4". Collection of Dr. W. Lehman Guyton. (Figure 8)
 
Polk, Charles Peale (American, 1767-1822) Profile of a Man, graphite, 6 1/4 x 5 1/4 Collection of Dr. W. Lehman Guyton. 
 
Polk, Charles Peale (American, 1767-1822), Profile of a Man, graphite, 6 1/4 x 5 3/4". Collection of Dr. W. Lehman Guyton. 
 
Saint-Mémin, Charles Balthazar Julien Févret de (French, 1770-1852), Portrait of Gabriel Duvall, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States 1811-1835, circa 1825, engraving 2 x 2 1/4", framed 9 x 9." Collection of Dr. W. Lehman Guyton. (figure 5) 
 
Turnbull, Grace H. (American, 1880-1976), Grace Denio Litchfield Miniature,  gouache on ivory, probably watercolored photo emulsion, 4 1/2 x 3". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Dr. Morris E. Sumner, 2003. 
 
Unidentified artist (American), Miniature Portrait of Emily Taylor, 1850s or 1860s,  watercolor on ivory, 4 x 3." Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of an anonymous donor, 1997.
 
Unidentified artist (American), Portrait Miniature of Major Samuel Ringgold, early 1820s, watercolor on ivory, 3 1/2 x 2". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Museum Purchase, 2000. (Figure 4)
 
Unidentified artist, Napoleonic Ring, ovoid face is 1 1/4 x 5/8". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Mrs. Victor D. Miller, III, 1992.  
 
Unidentified artist, small round candy or cosmetic box with miniature of unidentified woman on top (possibly a copy of a portrait of Catherine the Great), 19th century, ivory, 2 1/2" diameter, probably purchased on Grand Tour as souvenir. Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Harry D. Bowman, 1971.  
 
Unidentified artist in the manner of Angelica Kauffmann, Portrait of a Woman, 1880s or later, gouache on ivory, 4 5/8 x 3 7/8". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Mr. and Mrs. P. Dow Berggren, 2002. 
 
Unidentified artist in the manner of Angelica Kauffmann, Portrait of a Man, 1880s or later, gouache on ivory, 4 5/8 x 3 7/8". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, gift of Mr. and Mrs. P. Dow Berggren, 2002. 
 
Unidentified Philadelphia artist, Profile of Unknown Woman, circa 1800, silhouette, 6 1/4 x 5 3/4". Collection of Dr. W. Lehman Guyton. (Figure 6) 
 
Unidentified Philadelphia artist, Profile of Unknown Man, circa 1800, silhouette with gouache, 6 1/4 x 5 3/4". Collection of Dr. W. Lehman Guyton. (Figure 7) 
 
Wentworth, Thomas Hanford (American, 1781-1849), Sketch of a Man, 1821, pencil, 6 x 4". Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Museum Purchase, 1966.  
 
Wentworth, Thomas Hanford (American, 1781-1849), Sketch of a Woman, 1821, pencil, 6 x 4." Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Museum Purchase, 1966.
 
 

 Bibliography: 

 
Aronson, Julie and Marjorie E. Wieseman.  Perfect Likeness: European and American Portrait Miniatures from the Cincinnati Art Museum. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.
 
Barratt, Carrie Rebora and Lori Zabar.  American Portrait Miniatures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010. 
 
Carrick, Alice Van Leer.  A History of American Silhouettes: A Collectors Guide 1790-1840. Rutland, VT and Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1968. 
 
Frank, Robin Jaffee.  Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures. New Haven and London: Yale University Press for Yale University Art Gallery, 2000. 
 
Guyton, William Lehman, M.D. et al.  A Basic Guide to Identifying and Evaluating American Silhouettes. Annville, PA: Renfrew Museum and Park, 1999. 
 
Miles, Ellen Gross.  Saint-Mémin and the neoclassical profile portrait in America. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Portrait Gallery, 1994.  
 
Miller, Lillian B.  The Peale Family: Creation of a Legacy 1770-1870. Washington, D.C.: Abbeville Press, 1996. 
 
Richards, Nancy E.  "A Most Perfect Resemblance at Moderate Prices:  The Miniatures of David Boudon," Winterthur Portfolio. Vol. 9, 1974, pp. 77-101. 
 
Verplanck, Anne, "Facing Philadelphia:  The Social Functions of Silhouettes, Miniatures, and Daguerreotypes, 1760-1860" (Ph.D. diss., College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1996, microfilm through UMI, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2001). 
 
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.  American Women Artists 1919-1947: The Neville-Strass Collection. Hagerstown, Maryland: The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, 2003. 

Keepsakes of the Beloved: Portrait Miniatures and Profiles 1790 to 1840 is sponsored by the Agnita M. Schreiber Stine Foundation

 

Resource Library editor's note

The above essay was reprinted in Resource Library on February 4, 2011 with permission of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, which was granted to TFAO on February 4, 2011.

Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Jennifer Chapman Smith, Assistant Curator, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

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For biographical information on artists referenced in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists

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